874.5151/3–1347: Telegram

The Representative in Bulgaria (Barnes) to the Secretary of State

restricted   urgent

165. Only in Balkan country such as Bulgaria, dominated by Soviet Union and governed on spot by such neurotic demagogic Communist and Russian enthusiast as Georgi Dimitrov, could opéra bouffe of so-called battle of bank notes (see my telegrams 157, 158, 160 and 162, March 121) reach such dimensions as incident now gives promise of attaining.

Stupidly, Prime Minister Dimitrov has now seen fit indirectly to reply to joint note reported my telegram 158 by lengthy declaration to press in which, in effect and perhaps quite unconsciously, he destroys any real basis for presence of diplomatic missions in Bulgaria.2 He charges missions with being principal supporters of black market, both currency and commodity, with being largely responsible therefore for high cost of living, with utter disregard for laws of country, with being tactless and unnecessarily provoking incidents, with bearing false witness and with imaginary (appreciation of their own importance.

In particular Prime Minister charges French Minister,3 in connection with incident revolving around person of special correspondent of France Press, French woman, with rude disregard for Bulgarian law and with deliberate falsehood. On morning of March 7 this woman sought to deliver leva funds of France Press to French Legation. She was restrained by militia from entering Chancery and when finally French Minister came to her aid at entrance to Legation grounds she was struck in face by militia but nevertheless was rescued with her funds by French Minister. She has since been deported by order of Minister of Interior over protest of French Minister on grounds that [Page 151] for long time past she “rudely intervened in Bulgarian political life”. Prime Minister untruthfully states militia agent attacked by French Minister instead of reverse.

Dimitrov’s extraordinary statement ends with declaration that despite illegal origin of funds of foreign missions all funds already declared by them will now be exchanged.

This concession, however, promises no end to bank note battle. Conclusion to be drawn from Dimitrov’s statement is his estimation that no matter to what extent foreign chiefs of mission may be insulted by Bulgarian Government they can be bought off and quieted by monetary concessions. This is by no means consensus of chiefs of mission. Those of us who signed joint note of March 11 met this morning and convoked so-called Dean of Corps (Rumanian Minister who in addition to representing Russian satellite state was sent Bulgaria as Minister when his own government was still actively prosecuting war against three great Allies and when Bulgarian Government was likewise engaged) before them with demand that he call meeting of full Diplomatic Corps tomorrow morning at 11:30 to consider action suitable in reply to Dimitrov’s affront to all chiefs of mission. French Government also appears unwilling to be bought off so cheaply. French Minister has received instructions fully supporting his action to date and calling him urgently to Paris for consultation with view to formulating measures that may bring Bulgarian Government to its senses in dealing with chief of French Mission.

It is anticipated that tomorrow’s meeting, in which presumably Slav bloc representatives will participate for first time, will prove lively and perhaps explosive. Non-Slav representatives here have reached limit of their patience in relations with Communist-dominated Foreign Ministry and provocative and insulting militia.4 Fact that they have gained their point that official leva funds shall be completely covered by new bank notes secondary in their minds to mistreatment which they have received at hand of Bulgarian Government.

Dimitrov’s statement asserts no justification in international law or municipal law for any exceptional treatment of foreign nationals, no matter of what country, in application of monetary reform. He makes no mention, nor do new monetary regulations, of Bulgarian bank notes [Page 152] and bearer bonds held abroad. He states that “everybody will agree that Bulgaria is independent country and that capitulation is not in force here”. He appears to ignore force of armistice and of economic provisions of peace treaty. Mission now studying these provisions and seeking statement on these points of Bulgarian National Bank.

  1. These telegrams are not printed. On March 7, the Bulgarian Government announced that most bank notes and certain categories of bearer bonds would have to be turned in to the Bulgarian National Bank in exchange for new bank notes. Diplomatic missions were required to make their exchange the same day. The Bulgarian Government also sought to insist on rules giving it far greater control over currency used by diplomatic missions. Persons were arrested outside the American and other diplomatic missions, apparently as a result of the Bulgarian Government’s effort to implicate these missions in illegal currency transactions. The Chiefs of the British, French, Swiss, Swedish, Turkish, Italian, and United States Missions on March 12 addressed a joint note to the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry protesting the serious nature of the infringement of diplomatic privileges and immunities committed by the Bulgarian authorities in connection with currency exchange.
  2. In a note of March 12, the text of which was transmitted to the Department in telegram 169, March 15, from Sofia, not printed, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry rejected the joint note of March 12 from the “Western missions” on the grounds that representations regarding the currency conversion had been accomplished through a démarche by the dean of the diplomatic corps in Sofia, the Rumanian Minister, Achille Barcianu (874.5151/3–1547).
  3. Jacques-Emile Paris.
  4. Telegram 170, March 15, from Sofia, not printed, reported that the Chiefs of the Albanian, Czechoslovak, Polish, Soviet, and Yugoslav Missions in Sofia had refused to join the Chiefs of the Western Missions in their meeting on March 14, and the Rumanian Minister offered only to use his informal good offices in any future démarche by the Western Missions. The telegram commented as follows:

    “It is now clear that in effect two separate diplomatic corps exist, one of western ‘outlaws’ and other of eastern ‘sycophants’. I think it worthwhile for Department to bear this in mind in connection with joint diplomatic action that may in future become necessary any European capital.” (874.5151/3–1547)